Staying won’t put these futures back together
All the perfect drugs and superheroes
Wouldn’t be enough to bring me up to zero.
- Aimee Mann
One of Arthur’s earliest memories is of standing in the main square watching flames licking the sky.
His father stood at his side, gripping his hand just a little too tight, though Arthur could tell from his father’s expression that he shouldn’t say a word. There were people taking photographs, white flashbulbs stinging his eyes and making purple shapes leap across Arthur’s vision every time he blinked.
The press cuttings his father keeps have told Arthur this was the February before he turned four; he can still recall the bitter wind, the stinging heat of the bonfire.
“Here, Arthur,” his father said, letting go of him and pushing something into Arthur’s hands. A bundle of papers, a glossy cover; there were words Arthur couldn’t yet read, and a picture of a handsome, dark-haired man dressed in blue with a red cape. He frowned, looking up at his father. “Go on,” his father said, pushing him closer to the flames.
There were a lot of people shouting, throwing handfuls of the paper books onto the fire, pictures of men and women in capes and masks reduced to ash. Arthur stumbled forwards, and obediently threw the book onto the fire. When he glanced uncertainly back at his father, he was smiling.
There’s a photograph of Arthur throwing his copy of Superman onto the bonfire; headlines screaming Ten Thousand Comic Books Burned, news cuttings pasted into albums his father won’t look at but is proud of nonetheless.
Sometimes, Arthur wonders if he even remembers that day at all; or if it’s just his father’s justification for another photo opportunity.
There’s a sharp, almost vicious silence at the breakfast table. Arthur glances between his father and Morgana who are frostily ignoring each other, hidden behind the crisp morning papers.
“You’re not eating anything, Arthur,” his father observes calmly.
He hasn’t actually lowered his paper since Arthur sat down at the table and Arthur spends a moment wondering if this means he can actually see through it, before remembering that thinking like that is extremely dangerous.
Hurriedly, Arthur shoves some toast into his mouth. “I am,” he says incoherently.
Morgana lowers her newspaper enough to roll her eyes at him, before raising it again. Arthur glares at the headline, since he can’t glare at her, and then actually reads the words.
Dangerous Masked Vigilante Captured!
There are two pictures side by side under the headline; one is of a man in a black cape, a domino mask stuck to his face, teeth clearly gritted. The one beside it is of a man who could conceivably be the same one – their jawlines are certainly similar – but this man looks young and frightened, an ugly purple bruise covering his face and swelling one eye closed, arms cuffed tight behind him. He doesn’t look dangerous, but Arthur knows he must be.
That much has been drummed into him all his life; people who call themselves Heroes are not. They are dangerous and they get other people hurt and if every last one isn’t sought out and stopped then Camelot City and then the whole damn country will descend into chaos.
Arthur looks away from the terrified, accusing dark eyes of the man on the newspaper, and turns his attention to his breakfast.
Morgana is four years older than Arthur, and has lived with him and his father for the last ten years, since her own father died. Arthur isn’t entirely sure about all the details – he thinks Morgana’s father was a friend of his father’s; he knows better than to ask – but has come to see Morgana as his older sister. His older, increasingly distant, sister.
She’s sitting on the back steps smoking a cigarette when Arthur comes to find her.
“You’re the mayor’s disgraceful son,” she tells him without looking around. “Shouldn’t you be off doing something inappropriate for the gossip magazines?”
“The hookers and cocaine are arriving at six,” Arthur assures her, and is pleased when the corner of her mouth rises, just a little.
They sit in silence for a while, as Morgana blows a stream of grey smoke towards the overcast sky. Her posture is rigid; she looks tired.
“I hate him,” she says softly, “I hate him.”
Arthur thinks of half a dozen things he could say in his father’s defence, but there’s no point in saying them to Morgana.
“No one’s forcing you to stay,” he tells her instead.
Morgana turns a strange smile on him, stubbing her cigarette out on the stone step beside her.
“Right,” she says, voice sounding lost and far away, doubtful. “Of course.”
She picks the packet up from beside her and taps out another cigarette.
“You could get cancer,” Arthur says.
Morgana shakes her head. “I won’t.”
Now, she actually sounds certain.
Arthur’s mother died when he was just a year old; he has no memories of her and the only photographs are from the press cuttings his father thinks he has hidden in the safe in his office. She looks beautiful; golden haired and blue eyed and with a sweet, soft smile. The newspaper articles say more; about a fire on the street where he and his parents lived, about Nimueh, the costumed Hero who got Arthur out but could not get back in time to save his mother. There are photographs of her too; dressed in implausibly tight red leather, dark hair tumbling around her shoulders, eyes dangerously blue.
Three months after his wife’s death, Uther Pendragon began campaigning for Superheroes to be outlawed. He was just a councillor then, but his crusade to put an end to vigilante activities raised his profile immediately.
It started with public burnings of comic books; box after box of Superman and Fantastic Four and Uncanny X-Men, destroyed before they could damage the apparently vulnerable minds of growing children. Then a bill was passed, banning the publication or importation of Superhero-related products in any form. Arthur tries not to remember his nanny trying to take away his Spiderman pyjamas when he was five; his father did it in the end, ripping them physically off Arthur’s body.
He burned them in the back garden, and made sure Arthur watched him do it.
It took ten years, but not only did Uther manage to make Superheroes and all related activities illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, but his campaign also won him the election. He runs Camelot now, and he keeps them all safe from those who would seek to disrupt the peace.
Three days later, Morgana isn’t at the breakfast table at all. Arthur eats his bacon and eggs and says nothing and reads the back of his father’s newspaper; the would-be Superhero apprehended a few days ago has been murdered before even making it to trial. When the phone rings and his father goes to answer it, Arthur hurriedly flicks through the pages until he finds the photographs; not of the body, but the blood-drenched cell walls tell an entirely clear story anyway.
He leaves the table before his father returns and goes to find Morgana.
She’s in her room in the west wing of the house; he knocks on the door a few times, but she doesn’t reply, and he pushes the door open worriedly. Morgana is in her en suite bathroom, and he can hear her retching. She glances up blearily at Arthur, dark hair framing her face, eyes red-rimmed like she’s been crying.
“Anything I can do?” Arthur asks.
Morgana shakes her head, reaching to flush the toilet, pushing herself to her feet. She looks unsteady, and Arthur helps her back to her bed. She curls herself up under the cover and despite his entreaties refuses to talk.
The Camelot Herald is spread across the dressing table, open to the story about the dead vigilante. Arthur can see the paper is wet and smudged from Morgana’s tears, and isn’t entirely sure what to make of that.
“He was dangerous,” he offers feebly.
Morgana makes a sound from beneath the duvet that sounds like a bitter, choked-off laugh.
“He was called Lance Du Lacque,” she responds. “He saved the lives of more than fifty people, and he was torn to pieces in a concrete cell for it.”
Arthur scans his eyes over the article, and doesn’t find any of the three things Morgana has mentioned in it. His stomach tightens, and he opens his mouth to ask, and then closes it and leaves her alone.
It is becoming unbearable in the house; has been for the last few years. The mayor’s house is a big mansion on the edge of the city; acres of gardens, more rooms than they know what to do with, an appropriately sweeping staircase leading to a ballroom – all the usual and expected things. Arthur has lived here for the last nine years and it still isn’t quite home; his father is distant and quiet, becoming ever more fixated with stamping out every trace of the Superheroes that once lived quite happily in the city, and as for Morgana… Morgana seems to be drifting more every day.
Arthur once had dreams about university and getting the hell out of here but it’s not an option, not now. Now, he’s stuck in this city, in this house, making the front pages for tipping out drunk from bars and fucking blonde women in semi-public places. Part of him is a little bitter that that’s all anyone sees of him; the golden-haired little boy obediently burning comic books and the considerably-less-golden older boy doing inadvisable stupid things because his father has money and power and therefore Arthur doesn’t need to do anything, he just needs to be.
He doesn’t know what’s coming, but he knows it can’t go on like this for much longer.
Morgana appears to be surviving mainly on black coffee and cigarettes at the moment, and doesn’t tend to put in appearances outside her room unless she’s run out of either. Arthur is starting to get worried about her, and is even more worried because his father hasn’t commented on it once. He does seem to have noticed Morgana’s continued absence, but he hasn’t mentioned it. Arthur is reasonably certain that this isn’t a good sign.
Arthur is on page thirteen of the Camelot Herald this morning – a particularly unflattering shot of himself falling out of a nightclub – three pages ahead of the ‘enquiry’ into Lance Du Lacque – if that’s even his name – and his mysterious death. Arthur feels faintly uncomfortable about being more newsworthy than someone who’s actually been murdered, but he has no one to say that kind of thing to, so just tries to ignore it.
He’s dreadfully hungover and in a bad mood because Morgana seems to have barricaded herself in her room again so he doesn’t even have her to tell him just how pathetic he is, so Arthur makes his way down to the extensive kitchens. There are two different chefs down there preparing lunch – apparently his father has some people coming, Arthur has already decided he’s not going – and a nervous-looking young man washing plates in the corner. Arthur is pretty sure he hasn’t seen the man before, since he thinks he’d remember the ears, but his father is always hiring and firing people so it’s not a huge surprise.
“I need coffee,” he groans in an admittedly needlessly theatrical way, slumping against the gigantic silver fridge.
The dark-haired young man glances at him and then hurries to comply, dashing around the kitchen and then coming over to Arthur to hand him a white mug full of coffee. Arthur takes a sip; it’s not bad, but it’s not nearly strong enough, and the inadequate coffee adds itself to the list of Things That Are Crap About Arthur’s Life At The Moment.
“Fucking useless,” Arthur informs the man, pushing the coffee back at him and watching the dark liquid splash over his white coat. He sees the man’s jaw clench, but he doesn’t say anything, and instead returns to dashing around the kitchen, throwing things into a blender. The other two chefs don’t pay him much mind, in the way they aren’t really paying attention to Arthur – this is his father’s kitchen, after all, and Arthur can come down here and throw his weight around all he likes, they still know who actually wields the power – and Arthur sighs.
“I wanted fucking coffee,” he snaps.
The man doesn’t seem to hear – which, given the size of his ears, must be an impossibility – but switches on the blender. The grinding sound doesn’t help Arthur’s pounding head or his overall mood, and he looks suspiciously at the tall glass of yellow-y liquid he’s handed.
“You might as well try it,” the man tells him, his voice a soft lilt, gaze trained on the floor in a deferential way Arthur would probably find funny at any time not now.
Arthur obediently raises it to his lips, if only so he can have the pleasure of yelling at the guy about it, and finds the drink doesn’t actually taste as bad as he was expecting it to. He drains the lot, and finds a moment later that his headache is starting to abate. Huh.
He looks around to thank his Mystery Hangover Alleviater, and finds the guy has already disappeared.
“You’re a brat,” Morgana tells him.
“I’m bored,” Arthur counters.
She sighs, spread out elegantly on their sofa. Arthur can still see how worn and tired she is, but mainly because he knows her so well; to a stranger, she’d probably look her normal slightly-too-pale self.
“That doesn’t mean you have to take it out on our staff,” Morgana replies.
Arthur is tempted to point out that he’s been taking everything out on the staff for at least the last ten years, but Morgana already knows that anyway.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says instead.
Morgana rolls her eyes. “There’s really no need to be obnoxious to the kitchen staff,” she says. “If you’re really that bored, find yourself a hobby besides binge drinking and casual sex, you don’t have to bully Merlin.”
Arthur frowns. “Who’s Merlin?”
She continues to look angry and unimpressed. “The young man in the kitchen you threw coffee all over.”
“I didn’t throw coffee all over anyone!” Arthur protests. “I may have splashed it a bit, but I didn’t throw it.” He scowls. “And who the hell is actually called Merlin?”
Morgana sighs. “There’s really no talking to you sometimes,” she snaps, and she storms off, slamming the door behind her.
Arthur sits in silence, and tries to work out what just happened.
Everyone knows that there are two types of so-called ‘Hero’; they learned about them at school (Owain, who sat next to Arthur in biology when he was fourteen, said he didn’t think it counted as actual science and had several words to say about the Nazis. Arthur hasn’t seen him since; apparently Owain’s family moved away from Camelot).
The first kind are ordinary people; ordinary people like Arthur and his father and apparently the sadly misguided Lance Du Lacque. People who are completely normal, except that there is something horribly broken in their heads. Arthur has no idea what would possess a sane person to dress up in a frankly ludicrous outfit and then go out onto the streets with nothing to defend themselves but a strong right hook. This kind of Hero is dangerous because they are quite plainly mad, masochistic, deluded; but they can be (and often are) stopped.
The second kind are the kind you really have to watch out for; they’re much more frightening. The second kind are born with unnatural, almost magical powers; they can pick up cars or fly or conjure fire with a click of their fingers. The second kind are not mad, just plain dangerous. The second kind of Superheroes are the ones who tend to end up locked in solitary confinement for their entire lives.
It’s been at least five years since a Type Two has been sighted. Arthur is on the point of giving them up as a myth, whipped up as negative propaganda by his father.
The young man apparently called Merlin is in the kitchen when Arthur makes his way down there. He’s doing the washing up, concentrating on his task, shoulders hunched under the spotless white jacket he wears. He could be the same age as Arthur, maybe a little younger, and Arthur is fairly sure he could have got a better job somewhere else.
When enough time has passed and Merlin still hasn’t noticed him, Arthur clears his throat. Merlin’s head snaps up and he drops a cup, which shatters on the floor.
“Shit,” Merlin breathes, and then his eyes dart anxiously to Arthur. “Um, I mean, I didn’t, um…”
“Oh for God’s sake,” Arthur sighs. “I was going to ask for some coffee, but clearly I’ll have to do it myself.”
He does so; he pretends not to know his way around the kitchen, but he actually does (he did spend half his teenage years raiding the cupboards after football practice, after all). When Arthur turns around, Merlin has tidied away the broken bits of cup and the soap suds from the floor, and is standing a little anxiously beside the sink, plucking his lower lip between his teeth.
“You’re not terribly good at this, are you, Merlin?” Arthur asks with a smirk, though he knows it’s needlessly cruel and if Morgana ever finds out she will shout at him.
The boy blushes, and doesn’t look up.
Given that it’s a regular enough occurrence, Arthur would have thought that the paparazzi would have got bored of snapping him falling out of nightclubs, but apparently not. He’s still news-worthy, which is all kinds of depressing; his father sighs heavily whenever he opens his morning paper to find yet more photographs of his son vomiting into the gutter.
In an attempt to avoid the waiting photographers, Arthur takes the back way out of the club, stumbling drunkenly down the alley and then down another. It doesn’t take him long to get lost, and Arthur is just starting to think my father is going to kill me before he looks back to find three men following him and thinks or maybe they will. He swallows hard, remembering that in spite of his father’s best efforts the crime rate in Camelot is really too high. Oh, he’s an idiot, and he can’t believe he’d be this stupid.
Arthur is aware that he’s too drunk to fight, and from the moonlight glinting off metal he can tell that at least one of his would-be assailants has a knife. He’s trying desperately to think of a solution, but his thoughts are skittering loosely around his mind, and the men are closing in on him, eyes all wide and desperate. Arthur opens his mouth with no idea what the hell to say, when he sees a dark shape materialise behind the men.
The next minute and a half is completely confusing. Arthur stands, back pressed to a brick wall, and watches as the black-clad figure – it seems to be a man, dressed in a dark cloak – swiftly and competently incapacitates the three men. The man moves too fast, all fists and feet and elegant movement, and in barely any time at all there are three people groaning on the pavement, spitting teeth, and the stranger holds a gloved hand out to Arthur.
“Are you all right?” he asks, voice steady and clear. He doesn’t even sound breathless.
“Yes,” Arthur manages, and is pleased when his voice doesn’t crack.
Arthur knows that he shouldn’t, but he takes the warm, leather-encased hand anyway, and allows the stranger to lead him out onto a main road. Fear and shock have pushed away most of Arthur’s drunkenness, and as sobriety takes hold he begins to realise just what’s happening.
The man lets go of Arthur’s hand when they’re back to relative safety; they stand beneath a streetlight and stare at each other in the shaft of yellowish light. Arthur feels his mouth drop open; the man standing before him is dressed in what looks like skintight leather from head to toe, a silver belt cinched around his waist. His black cape flows down his back, coming up into a tight hood around his head, leaving only his face visible. A small black mask is stuck across the man’s face, and Arthur can’t tell if it’s a trick of the light or not, but his eyes are glowing gold.
He’s an honest-to-God Superhero, and Arthur really doesn’t know what to do with that thought.
The Superhero seems to be equally stunned. “You’re Arthur Pendragon,” he says a little blankly.
Arthur is trying to come up with something sensible to say when the Superhero inclines his head in a curious gesture of politeness and disappears into the night.
Morgana makes an appearance at the breakfast table for once, dark hair piled up elegantly behind her head as she peruses the headlines. Arthur is tired and hungover and still trying to work out what exactly happened last night; apparently his life was saved by a Superhero, and just thinking that makes him feel as though he’s standing on the edge of a precipice.
Almost everything on the breakfast table is burnt; the toast is blackened and the sound of Morgana crunching it sets Arthur’s teeth on edge. Uther seems perfectly happy with his fried eggs and bacon, both of which look far too crispy, and Arthur is picking idly at food that is more charcoal than anything else. His tea is positively stewed, and for once Morgana is actually adding milk to her coffee to try and weaken it a little.
Arthur pushes food around his plate and tries to work out why he’s not saying father, there’s another Superhero loose on the streets; he knows that he should, that he should report the dangerous maniac as soon as possible, but for some reason he remains silent.
Under loose floorboards in his room, wrapped in tin foil and hidden beneath a stack of porn magazines, Arthur has one Superman comic left. He doesn’t know why he has it; he’s read it so many times that he knows the words off by heart. There’s harm in the fiction, he’s been told, and God knows that the Superheroes would have society in chaos if they were given the opportunity, but he’s had it for years now anyway. One last shred of teenage rebellion, or perhaps he’s always been drawn to the unsmiling but oh so certain beautiful blue-eyed man in the coloured cape.
Arthur lies on his back on the floor and reminds himself that trying to dig out the comic book from its hiding place will lead to too many problems, and tries not to think about the black-clad vigilante who saved his life. It’s been three days, and he’s still there behind Arthur’s eyes whenever he closes them. The warmth of his leather-encased fingers against Arthur’s skin, the way his cloak swirled even though there was no wind, the firm set of his jaw.
Superheroes are alive and well in Camelot, apparently. Arthur sighs, knowing he should warn his father, but he’s reluctant to. It doesn’t seem to be adequate thanks: oh, you saved my life, I’ll have you imprisoned for the privilege! Arthur finds himself wondering what exactly would constitute appropriate thanks; he doubts there’s a suitable floral arrangement.
He would tell Morgana about it, but he honestly doesn’t know what to say.
There are twenty-five people employed to keep the mansion running; Arthur knows some of them better than others, but he doesn’t know any of them all that well. He’s fully aware that Morgana knows all of them, remembers their dates of birth and how many children they have and all the little details about their lives that Arthur can never get the hang of.
The problem is, of course, that no one knows those little details about Arthur; Morgana knows him better than anyone but there are still all these parts of his personality that no one has ever seen. Over the years, Arthur has got used to no one giving a shit about him.
“I’m making you nervous, aren’t I?” he asks, deflecting, because he’s honestly not sure why he’s spending the afternoon in the kitchen eating his way through the fridge and annoying Merlin. He gets the feeling if he works out just why he’s doing this he won’t like the answer.
“Little bit,” Merlin admits, cheeks staining pink. He’s so pale that any blush tends to spread thickly right over his face, and Arthur has found a certain sadistic pleasure in embarrassing Merlin, though of course he won’t confess to it.
“Do you actually have as big a personality disorder as you seem to?” Arthur enquires curiously, suspecting he’s being a little too impolite.
Merlin shrugs, a smirk teasing his lips, and crouches down to inspect whatever it is he’s got cooking in the oven.
“My ex always said it’s an awkward teenage phase I’ve never matured enough to grow out of,” he says.
Arthur frowns. “She sounds like a bitch,” he says, before he reflects that he probably should be slightly less obnoxious around Merlin.
“He could be one, from time to time,” Merlin responds placidly, straightening up and not looking at Arthur.
…he? Arthur is saved from trying to formulate a sensible response by the arrival of their head cook, who gives Arthur a you’ve violated my sacred space and eaten an entire cheesecake while you were at it, go away or I won’t be responsible for my actions look.
As he slinks out, he pretends it’s not a relief.
There’s shouting coming from his father’s office; Arthur can hear Morgana’s voice, shrill and infuriated, though he can’t make out the words. Uther’s voice is lower, steadier, though Arthur doesn’t doubt that he’s equally angry. There’s no apparent reason for them to be having this fight, but then the relationship between Uther and Morgana has always been somewhat volatile.
Arthur gets the feeling his carefully constructed world is starting to crack around him, though he has no idea why.
Morgana shoves the door open and storms past Arthur, furious sobs shaking her body. Arthur stands in the hall, trying to work out whether he should follow her. He turns, to find his father standing in his study doorway, staring after Morgana, pure fury etched on his features.
It’s not an expression Arthur has ever seen on his father’s face before, and it makes his stomach clench.
Morgana is not at the breakfast table on the day the Camelot Herald publishes pictures of Arthur kissing another man in a nightclub. Uther is disapproving and silent and Arthur is hungover, pushing bits of porridge around his bowl.
Arthur is tempted to point out that if his father would just let him leave the city and go to university somewhere he would be able to do whatever he liked wherever he liked without any of it being printed with ugly, pithy headlines the next morning, but he suspects it won’t really help. He’s stuck in Camelot for better or for worse.
“You seem to take great delight in humiliating yourself,” Uther says eventually, in a voice of ice.
Arthur says nothing, and stares at the incriminating photographs spread across three different pages. He was drunk, and he isn’t sure exactly what he was doing, and he’s trying not to think that the random man he ended up snogging bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain lantern-jawed character wrapped in tinfoil beneath his floorboards.
“It’ll blow over,” he mutters, pushing his cooling porridge away. “It always does.”
It turns out that Morgana is having a cold in her room, which mainly seems to involve her insisting that Merlin dash around the house in order to bring her stuff. Arthur is sitting on the stairs hiding from his father and any further recriminations; he watches the other man taking pot after pot of tea upstairs.
“Feel free to tell her she’s a spoiled hypochondriac and to make her own damn tea,” Arthur suggests, the third time Merlin hurries past. Arthur is currently on eyelevel with his feet; the laces of Merlin’s hightops are trailing and he can foresee a horrible slapstick accident.
Merlin laughs. “Yes, because that won’t get me fired at all.”
Just for a moment, there’s the strangest feeling of camaraderie.
Fifteen minutes later, when Merlin has trailed back downstairs, Arthur decides he can’t stay hiding like a child much longer, and instead gets to his feet and sneaks into Morgana’s room. She’s lying on her bed looking even more deathly pale than usual, dark hair spread across the pillow in a way clearly designed to be aesthetically pleasing. The Camelot Herald and Arthur’s rather public indiscretions are spread out over the covers.
She sees him and makes a pathetic groaning sound. Arthur is not really inclined to be sympathetic; Morgana has got sick at exactly the time he needs her around to deflect his father’s anger.
“And you accuse me of abusing Merlin,” he says. “The poor sod has been running around for hours doing your bidding.”
Morgana shrugs, and croaks: “Yes, but Merlin likes me.”
She might have a point, but Arthur doesn’t want to think about it. Instead, he says: “Are you forcing him to shag you to cheer you up?”
Morgana rolls her eyes. “Fuck off, Little Gayboy Arthur.”
For a moment, she doesn’t sound sick at all.
Arthur deliberately slams the door on the way out, but he’s smiling. He nearly runs into Merlin, who is standing outside the door with his arms full of magazines and books and other things Morgana has undoubtedly ordered to amuse herself with while she’s sick.
“She’s not that sick,” Arthur says loudly, knowing his voice will carry. “Tell her to fetch her own fucking stuff.”
Merlin grins sheepishly. “I don’t think I will, if it’s all the same to you,” he says, and gently pushes past Arthur into the room.
“I’m Emrys,” says the black-clad Superhero who has just saved Arthur’s life (again).
Arthur wants to say something like that’s a really stupid name, but adrenalin has caught his tongue and he can’t do anything but blink. He takes a few shallow breaths.
“You can let go of me,” he says at last, pushing Emrys backwards. The Superhero doesn’t even stumble, and Arthur’s knees give way. Before he can blink, Emrys hauls Arthur upright again.
“You’re all right,” he murmurs, almost soothingly, gloved hands curled tight around Arthur’s upper arms.
He’s trembling too hard; he wasn’t even drunk, but that truck was driving way too fast and there was no way that Arthur was going to get out of the way in time, and then the caped Superhero swooped out of nowhere and got him to safety.
Arthur stares at Emrys for a while, trying to get his heart rate to slow down so he can think clearly. The Superhero’s eyes are still golden, glowing slightly.
“You’re a Type Two,” Arthur murmurs blankly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Emrys says calmly, his expression not even flickering.
“You flew,” Arthur insists. “You flew us both out of the way of that truck.”
“Yeah,” Emrys agrees. “You’re welcome.”
Arthur’s kneecaps have stopped feeling like they’ve been replaced with jelly, and he shoves the Superhero sharply, forcing him away from him.
“Don’t touch me,” he spits. “You’re a fucking… freak.”
Under the streetlight, he sees Emrys’ lips curl, just a little. “Goodnight, Arthur Pendragon,” he says, still placid, still collected. He bends his legs and then pushes off, gliding up into the night sky, cape swirling behind him.
Arthur stumbles a few steps, the memory of fear leaving his whole body tingling and weak, and realises that he has no fucking idea what to do.
“Cigarette?” Morgana offers when Arthur joins her on the back steps. He shakes his head and she shrugs, lighting the one already held between her lips.
They sit in silence for a while, as Morgana smokes and Arthur tries to look for anything other than quiet desperation in this situation. They’re both too tired these days.
“You may as well spit it out,” she says at last.
Arthur takes another minute to consider, and then says: “A Superhero has saved my life. Twice. He says his name is Emrys. He’s a Type Two.”
Morgana doesn’t look surprised, which nettles him.
“You haven’t told your father,” she observes neutrally.
Arthur waits for her to say more, but she doesn’t.
“I should,” Arthur says. “Type Twos need to be locked up for everyone’s safety. This… Emrys can’t be allowed to roam free.”
Morgana stubs out her cigarette and lights another one. “So why haven’t you told Uther?”
Arthur shrugs awkwardly. “It seemed kind of a shitty way to thank him, you know; he has saved my life twice, after all.”
Morgana thinks about this. “It’s how your father thanked Nimueh for saving you,” she points out. Her voice is flat, expressionless.
Arthur has never thought of it like that, and he immediately feels nauseous. Morgana doesn’t say anything more, and the two of them remain sitting on the stone steps, staring up at the colourless sky.
The kitchen is clean and peaceful and quiet, though Arthur tells himself he isn’t actually hiding down here. Merlin has made him a cup of coffee and is now wandering about putting things in drawers, back to Arthur, head bowed.
Arthur takes an experimental sip of his coffee. “I’m going to do this myself,” he says. “Your coffee is shit.”
There’s a soft sound, like Merlin is swallowing a laugh. “Sorry,” he offers, though he doesn’t sound it.
Arthur makes himself a drink to his satisfaction and perches on one of the spotless kitchen surfaces, trying not to think things like this is probably unhygienic because five million people in Camelot know he’s a selfish unobservant little bastard, and there’s no sense in being anything else.
Merlin’s hands are trembling, he notes. Arthur frowns. “Are you ok?” he asks.
“I’m fine,” Merlin says, a little too quickly.
Arthur puts his mug down and slides off the sideboard, striding over to Merlin and spinning the other man around before he can react.
“Shit,” he breathes. Merlin tries to pull away, but Arthur is stronger. “What the hell happened to you?”
The entire left side of Merlin’s face appears to be one huge bruise; his eye is ringed with black, his lip is split, and his cheek is purple, a shallow graze skimming his cheekbone.
“Would you believe me if I said I walked into a door?” Merlin asks, with an attempt at a smile that clearly hurts his mouth.
“No,” Arthur says firmly. “No, I wouldn’t.”
Merlin sighs, looking slightly amused in spite of everything. “I didn’t think you would.”
“You’re avoiding the question,” Arthur points out, “And you’re avoiding it badly.”
“It’s fine,” Merlin insists, finally managing to extricate his arm from Arthur’s grip. “I got into an argument and I was an idiot. It looks worse than it actually is.”
“Really?” Arthur asks. “Because it kind of looks like your face got slammed into a brick wall.”
Merlin’s shrug is really rather eloquent.
“God,” Arthur says, “You really are an idiot.”
Merlin laughs, then winces, raising a hand to his cut mouth. “It’s all right,” he insists. “Really.”
His gazes catches Arthur’s for a moment; it’s the first time Arthur has ever looked Merlin full in the face before. His eyes are breathtakingly blue; so blue that Arthur can’t think of anything to say until Merlin has turned away to carry on working, and then it’s far too late anyway.
Uther’s study has a huge board with photographs of Camelot’s Superheroes on it; one side has all the Heroes who have been apprehended, and the other has the ones known to be at large. There aren’t many on the ‘at large’ side, and Arthur notes that Emrys isn’t there.
“You wanted to tell me something?” Uther prompts. He’s good at feigning patience, but Arthur knows his father has a long list of things to do and he’s mentally tapping his foot.
Arthur is about to come clean (or, at least, he’s going to give his father an edited version of recent events) when, over his father’s shoulder, he catches sight of a photograph of Lance Du Lacque. The man’s scared eyes stare out of the picture, face bruised as fiercely as Merlin’s is, and Arthur’s nerve fails.
“I just think we should give Merlin a raise,” he finds himself saying instead. “He’s doing really good work.”
Uther raises an incredulous eyebrow at him, but Arthur simply gives his father a vague, spoilt-rich-boy smile, and turns to go.
“Oh God,” he breathes when the study door has closed behind him. “Oh God, tell me I did the right thing.”
Morgana is sitting at the top of the stairs, staring owlishly down at him.
“Did you tell him?” she asks.
Arthur shakes his head, and Morgana smiles.
A week later, the papers are full of blurry images of a new Superhero; a woman who dresses in deep yellow. The pictures are distinctly fuzzy, and his father hasn’t come to breakfast; he’s already in the town hall, yelling at people.
“It’s all rather Spiderman,” Morgana observes lightly.
Arthur always associates Spiderman with having his pyjamas burnt in the back garden, and he bites down the wave of helplessness that threatens to fall over him.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he says.
Morgana takes a sip of orange juice. “Spiderman was a superhero that no one could get a decent picture of,” she explains. “Then, his alter-ego, Peter Parker, decided an easy way to make money would be to get pictures of himself fighting crime and then sell them to a newspaper.”
“Do you think that will happen here?” Arthur asks doubtfully.
Morgana shrugs. “She won’t do that if she’s smart,” she says, indicating the fuzzy images of the woman. “Of course, she can’t be that smart, if she’s decided to set herself up as a Superhero here.”
Arthur smiles slightly, and wonders why he’s feeling relief that it’s not Emrys splashed across the Camelot Herald. After all, it’s not as though he actually cares.
It’s one of those never-ending Sunday afternoons; Arthur leaves a trail of empty mugs through the house, while Morgana sits on her balcony painting her toenails. Uther is conspicuously absent, spending another day in his office looking over the scraps of evidence they have, trying to look for the latest Superhero. The house is quieter with him gone, though Arthur is trying hard not to feel too relieved.
Merlin’s soft sighs drift through the rooms, as he patiently trails about picking up all the crockery Arthur has scattered about. Arthur himself is restless, wandering from room to room to room, unable to work out exactly what it is that he wants. He gets like this from time to time; it supposedly comes from getting everything that he’s ever wanted – that’s what his psychologist told him when he was eighteen, anyway – but there are plenty of things Arthur wants that he knows not to ask for.
One mug has left a round stain on the lid of the grand piano that no one plays, and Arthur watches Merlin tutting at it. He doesn’t feel a shred of remorse; this house feels like too damn much of a museum a lot of the time. Merlin has a tray with mugs on it – some empty, some of them only half-drunk, some still full – that he has collected, and when he glances up at Arthur his expression is unimpressed. The bruising has faded to an ugly green-yellow that makes him look as though he has some rare tropical skin disease.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Merlin accuses, lips curling softly.
Arthur shrugs, and won’t admit it. “It’s what you’re paid for,” he points out.
“Paid peanuts for,” Merlin corrects him mildly.
Arthur grins in spite of himself, walking across to join Merlin at the piano.
“Do you play?” he asks, knowing it’s a completely random question, but curious nonetheless. He’s found himself collecting little things on Merlin; he won’t admit to himself why. No good can come of it.
“No,” Merlin replies, rubbing at the drink stain on the piano’s glossy surface with his sleeve and only making it worse. “What about you?”
“My mother did,” Arthur says lightly. Merlin nods, understanding all he needs to. After all, Arthur’s family life has always been lived so very publicly.
“Do you miss her?” Merlin asks, voice soft, not looking at Arthur.
Arthur frowns. “I never knew her,” he replies.
“I know.” Merlin is still determinedly not looking at him. “But still; do you miss her?”
Yes, Arthur thinks. Yes, I do. But he can’t say it, can’t admit it aloud.
“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” he says.
Merlin nods, picking up his tray of mugs. “Fair enough.” He seems disappointed, and doesn’t look back at Arthur as he leaves.
A young woman is found brutally raped and beaten to death in a back alley; on her chest is a small square card with a picture of two entwined snakes on it.
“Like the Joker,” Morgana muses, though her eyes are a little swollen and she looks like she hasn’t slept in the longest time. She and Arthur pore over the newspaper together, trying to read between the lines of the article, through the propaganda to the truth. The headline is screaming Superhero Murders Woman, churning up the hysteria.
“Superheroes kill people, Morgana,” Arthur tells her savagely. He knows none of this is her fault, but he’s allowed his judgement to be swayed by the death of Lance Du Lacque and by Emrys and his fucking gold eyes, and he’s angry with himself for forgetting the true nature of these so-called Heroes.
“Superheroes don’t kill people,” Morgana snaps back, “Supervillains do.”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Oh, like there’s actually a difference.”
“There is,” Morgana insists, “There is a big difference.”
Arthur narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Just where do you get all this information from, Morgana?” he asks.
She arches an eyebrow, and does her very best scathing look. “Not all of us spent our childhoods burning books, Arthur,” she tells him.
Arthur scowls. “Well, maybe you should have done,” he snaps.
Morgana’s face closes down, her mouth thinning. “Get out of my room,” she tells him coldly. “Get out right now.”
Arthur does so, slamming the door as hard as he can behind him.
Uther is on the news, looking grave and sad and promising that he will find the person responsible for this crime and that they will be punished.
“Someone else to be ripped to pieces in a prison cell,” Morgana mutters. She’s smoking in the living room because Uther isn’t home, using a crystal wineglass as an ashtray.
Things are still tense between them after two days, though they’re tolerating being together because they’re both smart enough to realise that all they actually have is each other.
“What do you mean?” Arthur asks.
Morgana glares at him. “Lance’s murder wasn’t a tragic accident,” she spits, “Uther organised it. The same way all Superheroes captured in the last five years have supposedly gone ‘missing’.”
“You’re lying,” Arthur tells her.
“Are you sure?” Morgana enquires, glaring.
Arthur can’t do this, he can’t be thinking what he’s thinking, he can’t know what Morgana has just told him. He can’t.
“You’re lying,” he insists through his teeth.
“And you’re hopelessly naïve,” Morgana responds. She sounds sad.
The lovely sparkling clean kitchen has no newspapers, no television, no accusing looks from Morgana or furious looks from his father. Arthur makes his own coffee and sips it sitting alone in the big, sunlight-filled room, relieved that no one else is around because he’s pretty sure he’s being desperately unstable and very unhappy and, contrary to whatever the general population believe, it’s not something he needs an audience for.
Arthur finds a chocolate cake in the fridge and after a couple of slices, he finally starts feeling more solid. He’s pretty sure that the cook is going to give him death glares when he gets back, but it doesn’t really matter.
Merlin looks like he hasn’t slept in several days when he walks in, dark hair a mess and clothing rumpled. He offers Arthur a small smile, then wanders over to the sink; there’s a pile of plates and Arthur doesn’t know why they haven’t invested in a dishwasher.
“Need a hand?” Arthur asks.
Merlin glances over his shoulder and gives Arthur an incredulous look. Arthur shrugs and slips off the sideboard he’s sitting on, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.
“And I thought today couldn’t get weirder,” Merlin murmurs, shuffling over to make room for him.
They work in silence for a while, as Arthur tries to work out if he trusts Merlin enough to ask him a question like do you think my father has Superheroes killed? He doesn’t even trust himself enough to ask that question in the privacy of his own mind, though, so he stays quiet.
Merlin offers him a smile, and he has soap suds in his hair where he brushed his fringe back with a wet hand, and the bruising has healed leaving him looking vague and a little fey but no longer vulnerable. Arthur notices for the first time that they’re actually the same height; Merlin spends so much time being deferential that Arthur’s always assumed Merlin was shorter than him. Before he can stop himself, he’s reaching out with one damp hand to catch Merlin’s sleeve, and leaning a little closer. Merlin’s lips are just slightly open, like an invitation, but Arthur sees something flash through those blue eyes. It’s only there for a moment before it’s gone, but there’s no mistaking it: fear. Actual fear.
Arthur lets go of Merlin’s arm like he’s been burnt, and takes a step away. He tries to find words to say, but the realisation that Merlin is afraid of him has stopped his heart in his chest.
Merlin is staring at the soap bubbles, head bowed, and he doesn’t look at Arthur.
It wasn’t really a rejection because there was fucking nothing to reject, but it still stings. There is altogether too much shit in Arthur’s life at the moment, and he and Morgana are barely capable of being civil to each other, so he deals with it all in his usual fashion: going out and getting as drunk as he can.
The waiting paparazzi get some lovely photographs of him puking in a gutter, and Arthur thinks, well, at least he’ll provide a distraction from the current headlines of death and destruction and Hero-hating.
No one thinks to call a car for him and Arthur makes his way home mostly by crawling, head aching, vision blurring. His father is not going to thank him for this but then his father is hardly ever home, so it won’t really matter in the scheme of things.
There’s a man dressed all in silver standing beneath a streetlight; his teeth glint and Arthur has enough time to think oh fucking hell before he’s dragged sideways, thick strong fingers curling around Arthur’s upper arms tight enough to bruise. The Superhero is laughing, a cold sharp sound, and his head begins to clear a little as adrenalin rushes through his veins.
“Leave him alone.” Arthur recognises the voice and he knows that Superheroes are fucking psychopaths so he shouldn’t feel relief that Emrys had arrived. But he does, even if the black-clad Hero looks too slender when compared to the one currently pinning Arthur to the wall. “Valiant, let go of him.”
“Emrys,” the Superhero spits. “I’m sending a fucking message to Uther Pendragon, don’t get in my way.”
“Let go of him,” Emrys insists, voice cold and hard and leaving no room at all for negotiation.
Valiant does so, and Arthur crumples in a heap to the pavement. He decides not to get to his feet as Emrys rushes straight at Valiant, moving so fast that his feet can’t be touching the ground, punching the silver-clad Superhero so hard his head snaps back. Valiant growls a mouthful of expletives and spits a tooth, moving to attack Emrys. The smaller Superhero ducks, side-stepping him easily, landing more swift punches, preventing Valiant from fighting back.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Emrys orders, his foot connecting with Valiant’s jaw in a way that looks really damn painful.
Arthur tries to push himself to his feet again but his vision is starting to swim, and he realises that he is actually about to sodding faint. The last thing he sees before he loses consciousness is Valiant climbing up the nearest wall like a silver spider, muttering invectives beneath his breath.
When Arthur claws his way back to consciousness, he finds he’s sitting propped against a wall. Emrys is crouched beside him, golden eyes full of concern.
“Are you all right?” he asks quietly, one gloved hand reaching out to cup Arthur’s cheek. Arthur flinches away.
“Don’t touch me.”
The curl of Emrys’ lips is a little sad, though he obediently drops his hand.
“You should be more careful,” he says, straightening up.
Arthur’s head aches and his body feels like it doesn’t belong to him. Looking around, he realises he’s sitting against one of the outer walls surrounding the mansion, though how he got home is a mystery to him.
“I flew you here,” Emrys says, as though reading Arthur’s mind. “I know you’ll be less than happy with me, but it’s dangerous for you to be out until I find Valiant.”
Arthur thinks about the giant who attacked him, and swallows. “Is he the one who…” he trails off, unable to say it.
“Raped and killed that young woman?” Emrys suggests. “Yes, he was. I’ve been tailing him for days.”
A horrible realisation unfolds in Arthur’s mind. “Was he going to…” He wants to be sick. He wants to be sick.
Emrys doesn’t turn to face him, but his tone is gentle when he murmurs: “Yes. Yes, he probably was.”
“Oh God.” Arthur struggles for a moment, then manages to whisper: “Thank you.”
There’s silence for a moment, and then Emrys turns around, the softest of smiles gracing his mouth. “Are you going to let me help you get up?”
Arthur nods, and Emrys bends down, hoisting Arthur to his feet with ease. Arthur sways, curling his hands against the smooth warmth of Emrys’ costume before he even really thinks about it.
“Ok?” Emrys asks.
“Yeah,” Arthur nods. The Superhero lets go of him, and Arthur remains standing, which is both a surprise and a relief. “Really… thanks.”
Emrys smiles a little wider, and this time when his hand curls under Arthur’s jaw, tilting his head up, Arthur doesn’t pull away.
“You need to be careful,” Emrys murmurs, “I won’t always be around to protect you.”
And then, without any hesitation, without any sort of preamble, he leans forward and kisses Arthur. Without meaning to, Arthur opens his mouth and kisses him back.
After a long moment, Emrys pulls away and walks away into the night without turning back. Arthur raises a hand to his tingling lips, uncertain what the hell to think, and then realises, with a shock of bemusement, that Emrys seems to know exactly where the security camera blindspot is.
The next morning, the newspapers are full of the news that a Superhero has been found; a man dressed in skintight silver, and a pocket in his belt revealed a set of cards decorated with snakes. The Hero, calling himself Valiant, was found with his neck broken outside the police station.
Arthur hides a smile, digging into his breakfast with gusto. Morgana also seems cheerful, and for once the silence between them is easy, almost friendly. Arthur throwing up inelegantly is on page seventeen, and Morgana spends a while mocking him in a good-natured sort of way.
Uther is, of course, down at the police station for publicity.
After breakfast, Arthur goes down to the kitchen to apologise to Merlin. He knows he’s overstepped some kind of line, even if he’s not sure why, and he doesn’t want to lose one of his only friends.
“Are we ok?” he asks.
“We’re ok,” Merlin replies, with a sweet smile that sort of stings. He reaches for a stack of plates, and winces.
Arthur is at his side in a moment. “What’s the matter?” he demands urgently.
Merlin seems amused by his protective attitude. “I went out and got pissed last night,” he replies. “I was an idiot and fell over a few too many times; I’ve cracked a couple of ribs. It’s no big deal.”
“You are the most accident prone person I know,” Arthur tells him firmly, pushing Merlin backwards. “Go and sit there, I’ll finish this.”
Merlin protests for a while, but Arthur ignores him and gets on with the washing up.
Three days later, Morgana doesn’t turn up to lunch. Since she was only sipping coffee at breakfast, Arthur is concerned about her, and goes to find out what the problem is. She doesn’t respond when he knocks on the door, but he’s worried enough to go in uninvited.
Morgana is knelt on the floor surrounded by photographs and press cuttings. She looks up at Arthur when he walks in, her eyes wide, and her expression goes from shock to guilt. She starts to gather the papers together quickly, but Arthur is too fast for her, dropping to the floor beside her and pulling a few photographs towards him.
“Arthur, don’t-” Morgana begins anxiously.
Arthur isn’t sure what he’s seeing at first; the pictures show a young Superhero, a girl with dark hair dressed all in purple. He knows that some people didn’t mind their children joining in with their so-called crime fighting; bad parents, of course, who placed their kids in unnecessary danger. This girl can’t be more than fourteen, and there are various shots of her, both alone and with another girl, this one dressed in deep yellow.
Deep yellow like the outfit the Superhero the papers still can’t find wears.
“Arthur, it’s not…” Morgana trails off, and Arthur realises that the purple-wearing Superhero is Morgana. He was ten when the ban against Superheroes went through, so Morgana would have been around fourteen then. Old enough.
The photographs fall from his suddenly limp fingers. “No,” he breathes, “No, Morgana, no.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I couldn’t tell you.”
Arthur pushes himself to his feet. “You’re one of them,” he spits, “You’re a fucking psychopath too.”
Tears have sprung to Morgana’s eyes, but he can’t look at her like his older sister right now. “Arthur, please,” she begs, her voice cracking.
“Stay the hell away from me,” he snarls.
“Arthur!” she screams desperately, but Arthur ignores her, and walks away.
That night, angrily walking the streets even though he knows it isn’t safe because he can’t stand to be at home right now, Arthur is almost run over again. He isn’t even surprised when strong arms curl around him and fly him to safety; Emrys takes them both to the roof of a nearby building, away from the rest of the world.
“This is starting to become a habit with you,” he says, looking amused, but Arthur’s mind is full of too much and he doesn’t want to talk. He doesn’t want to make nice with a Superhero. He doesn’t want any of this.
“Don’t,” Arthur murmurs, “Just don’t.”
Emrys makes to pull away but Arthur doesn’t let him, hooking a hand around the back of the Superhero’s neck and pulling him into a fierce kiss. He’s furious with himself; he can’t have Merlin and he can’t admit to himself how much he wants Emrys.
“Arthur-” Emrys begins uncertainly when they part for air. “What are you doing?”
I don’t know. Arthur’s world is falling to pieces around him, and he pulls Emrys closer, kissing him again. Emrys’ hands slide over Arthur’s waist, holding him firmly. Arthur responds in kind, hands moving over the warm leather of the uniform; Emrys winces slightly when Arthur brushes his hand over his ribs on the right hand side, but Arthur doesn’t have time to think about that because Emrys is pushing him backwards, pinning him against a water tank on the roof.
“Don’t stop,” Arthur murmurs breathlessly against the wet curve of Emrys’ mouth, “Don’t stop.”
Emrys pulls away long enough to drag his gloves off; his hands look oddly pale in the moonlight, slender but strong. Long fingers drag down Arthur’s spine, clench over his arse, pulling him closer.
“Tell me what you want.” Emrys’ lips press to the curve where Arthur’s neck and jaw meet, his breath too loud in Arthur’s ear.
Arthur fumbles with his wallet; he keeps a condom in it, which he presses with shaky fingers into Emrys’ hands, unable to articulate what he wants.
For a moment, he thinks my father would kill me if he knew, and then decides that he doesn’t want to think about his father at any point tonight.
“Do you trust me?” Emrys asks quietly.
Arthur bites off a laugh. “You’re a Superhero,” he points out.
“Do you trust me right now?” Emrys amends.
Arthur wants desperately to say no. “Yes,” he mutters.
Emrys undoes Arthur’s jeans and he’s somehow so hard it hurts, kicking his jeans off over his trainers. He’s caught into another kiss, Emrys’ tongue sweeping hard and certain inside Arthur’s mouth.
“I’m a Type Two,” Emrys says against his lips, his hands too warm against Arthur’s bare thighs.
“I know,” Arthur groans back. He realises what Emrys is actually saying. “Ok,” he murmurs. “Ok.”
Things get messy and complicated and Emrys’ hands seem to be everywhere, leaving trails of fire beneath Arthur’s skin. He feels angry and desperate and a little confused, his bare flesh skidding against the pliable warm leather of Emrys’ costume. Emrys’ hand slides between his legs, fingers inexplicably slick. Type Two, Arthur reminds himself, and then thinks oh fucking hell as one finger slides inside him.
He’s making groaning noises against the silky hood covering Emrys’ head, and he doesn’t care about the anonymity because he doesn’t think he wants to know who this Superhero really is. Two fingers twist inside him, and he shifts, curling his leg around the back of one of Emrys’ thighs, head thudding back against the water tank. He swallows down a scream when the third finger slides inside him, clenching a hand in Emrys’ cloak.
“Still trust me?” the Superhero asks.
“For now,” Arthur grits back, as his fingers slide free.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Emrys murmurs.
“I don’t fucking care,” Arthur responds.
This gets him a calculated look from those golden eyes, shining slits in the small mask stuck across Emrys’ face, but it’s only a fleeting expression.
Emrys pulls his silver belt free to reveal where his costume parts, pushing warm leather down his thighs to reveal more pale skin that shines almost silver in the moonlight. His eyes are still fiercely gold, as he curls his hands under Arthur’s arse, actually bloody lifting him. Arthur curls his legs around Emrys’ waist, and the angle should be halfway impossible but it isn’t, braced against the tank as Emrys pushes inside him.
It’s filthy and crude and completely inappropriate and Arthur doesn’t care, gasping on every thrust, his hands struggling to find purchase on Emrys’ impossibly smooth uniform. It’s too much, all too much, the cold night air contrasting sharply with the heat between them, the warmth radiating off Emrys. Arthur thinks vaguely I shouldn’t be doing this, but it feels too good even if it is too intense.
His orgasm catches him almost by surprise; it’s much too fast but that doesn’t matter, and he bites off a mangled word that’s part expletive and part Emrys and part Merlin. Emrys follows a moment later, his fingers biting into Arthur’s skin, and Arthur closes his eyes as his breathing slows, feeling his body cramping because he’s just had physically improbable sex with a Superhero.
He hisses when Emrys slips free, Arthur’s back sliding against the tank until he’s standing upright again. He tries to think of something to say, but he can’t find the words. Feeling his face flushing, he bends to reclaim his jeans and to struggle back into them. His back is screaming at him and his knees feel a little weak, but he won’t ever admit to it.
“Arthur,” Emrys says, almost hesitantly.
Arthur turns to look at him, but the Superhero doesn’t seem to have any idea what to say either. It must be a trick of the moonlight, but for a split second, his eyes don’t look gold at all; they look blue.
Morgana is sitting on the back steps smoking when Arthur comes to join her. She flinches when he sits down beside her, but doesn’t move away.
“One or Two?” he asks quietly.
She’s silent for a moment, but doesn’t seem to be pretending not to know what he’s talking about.
Morgana is many things but clinically insane is not one of them. “No,” Arthur says simply. “One or Two?”
She sighs. “Two. Two, ok?”
“Jesus,” Arthur breathes. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Morgana gives him an incredulous look. “You think all Superheroes should be killed, that they’re all mad and dangerous,” she points out. “You’re like my little brother, Arthur, why would I tell you?”
Too many things are starting to make sense in Arthur’s head now.
“Does my father know?” he asks eventually.
“He thinks I’m a Type One,” Morgana shrugs. “He thinks he’s rehabilitating me.”
Arthur offers her a tentative smile, one Morgana returns.
“You know,” he says, “I think I’ll take a cigarette now.”
“My life is ridiculous,” Arthur complains, reaching for one of the cookies Merlin has just taken out of the oven and getting his hand slapped for his troubles. “Ow! I could have you fired for that, you know.”
“You could,” Merlin agrees, clearly remorseless. “And of course your life is ridiculous, you live it in the public eye and you don’t seem to have any past-times that don’t result in puking the next morning.”
“If it doesn’t end in puking you’re not doing it right,” Arthur deadpans.
Merlin sighs, but he’s grinning anyway. “Right, yeah, how stupid of me to forget that.”
Arthur makes another abortive attempt to steal a hot cookie; this time Merlin smacks his hand with a teatowel.
“Fired,” Arthur reminds him.
Merlin ignores him, carefully transferring the cookies onto a wire cooling rack. He’s worrying his lower lip between his teeth in concentration, and Arthur does his best not to watch.
“We should go for dinner,” he says, before his brain has time to really process the words.
Merlin drops a cookie, cheeks flushing a beautiful shade of pink.
“Um,” he says. “Are you drunk, and I haven’t noticed?”
Arthur does his very best unimpressed look in Merlin’s direction. “No,” he snaps. “I am not drunk.”
“Right.” Merlin smiles slightly. “Just thought I’d better check.”
“You’re crap at avoiding questions,” Arthur says.
“You haven’t actually asked me anything,” Merlin points out, carefully transferring the last of the cookies.
Arthur has made the filthiest and crudest suggestions to people he’s known for barely five minutes in public, but this is different. He’s not entirely sure why, but it is.
“Want to have dinner sometime?” he manages.
Merlin smiles gently, but doesn’t look Arthur in the eyes. “Can I get back to you on that?” he replies. He’s quick to add: “It’s not a no, it’s a not right now. There are some things I need to sort out first.”
“Anything I can help with?”
Merlin’s smile turns a little bitter, and he shakes his head.
Thursday night finds them with a cocktail shaker and a few too many bottles of alcohol. Uther is on the television; he’s giving a speech about the current Superhero Situation, assuring people his control isn’t slipping and he can still protect them all. Arthur suspects that both he and Morgana are supposed to be there, stiffly well-dressed and dutiful. They’re actually in their pyjamas, spilling olives on the sofa, watching the televised conference with the sound turned up.
“So, what kind of a Type Two are you?” Arthur asks, dropping ice into the cocktail shaker.
“I see the future,” Morgana shrugs, sticking olives onto a cocktail stick with slightly unsteady hands.
Arthur makes a face. “Is that all? I was hoping for, I don’t know, the ability to control lightning or something.”
Morgana rolls her eyes, reaching across to take the shaker from him, opening it up, and haphazardly pouring whichever inadvisable combination of alcohol they’ve created into martini glasses.
On the television screen, people start screaming and cheering at whatever Uther’s just said.
“We’ve established that obviously I think of your father as The Bad Guy,” Morgana remarks. “How do you think of him?”
Arthur watches his father expostulate to the crowd and sighs. “I don’t know what the fuck to think any more,” he replies.
Morgana raises her glass; he clinks his against it. “I’ll drink to that,” she says.
Later, they’ve invented a drinking game for the local news highlights. They’ve given up on glasses and cocktails and the packet of little paper umbrellas Morgana found God knows where; they each have a bottle of spirits.
“My father is going to kill us,” Arthur remarks.
The speech is still burbling away on the screen.
“Oh,” Morgana says, “He’s used the word ‘monsters’. Again.” They both swig from their bottles; Arthur makes a face as gin bites in his throat. “Switch?” Morgana offers, holding out her own bottle of Smirnoff.
Eventually, a group of pedantic twats start stripping Uther’s address apart, seated on faux-comfortable armchairs in a brightly-lit studio, and Arthur can no longer follow what they’re saying.
“Bathroom,” he mumbles.
Morgana nods, stumbling over to open up a window, digging a packet of cigarettes from her pocket, splashing alcohol over the windowseat. She looks small and lost and a little bit sad and, no matter what his father says, she doesn’t look like a monster.
Arthur doesn’t go to any of the bathrooms in the mansion – though they have fourteen, he and Morgana counted once when they were much younger – but staggers through the dark halls, not sure exactly where he’s going.
Most of their employees live in the mansion too; there’s a whole wing of rooms for them to stay on site, supposedly so they’re accessible 24/7. Arthur and Morgana try not to go anywhere near the accommodation, but Arthur is unerringly walking that way anyway. His legs go beneath him and he collapses at the bottom of the stairs, clinging to the banisters.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” he mumbles.
“Well, that makes two of us.”
Arthur squints upwards to find Merlin smiling down at him. He’s wearing a ragged black jacket, his cheeks flushed from the wind outside.
“Merlin!” Arthur says.
“Just how pissed are you?” Merlin asks, eyes crinkling in amusement.
Arthur thinks about it. “Less pissed than Morgana,” he replies.
“Ok,” Merlin says. “Well, that’s nice, but it’s been a long day, so I’m going to go to bed now.”
He squeezes past Arthur and starts making his way up the stairs to his room.
“I love you,” Arthur calls.
Merlin freezes. Then he sighs and walks back down. “Budge up,” he orders, sitting down on the bottom step with Arthur. Arthur obediently shifts a little, trying to focus on Merlin’s face; he’s too drunk to read his expression.
“You don’t love me,” Merlin says patiently. When Arthur opens his mouth to say something in reply – though he has no idea what, his brain has completely ceased functioning – Merlin shakes his head and presses his finger to Arthur’s lips. “No, you really don’t. It’s just that you’ve been starved of love all your life and so you don’t know how to interpret friendship mixed with a little bit of lust.”
Arthur slowly realises that he may have a point, and hangs his head. He suspects he might be blushing.
“Sorry,” he mumbles.
Merlin reaches and cups Arthur’s cheek, tilting his chin up. There’s something familiar about the gesture, but Arthur can’t place it.
“It’s ok,” Merlin says quietly. “We’ll work all of this out. Sometime when you’re slightly less conflicted and when you’re not ingesting quite this much alcohol.”
He leans forward and presses a kiss to Arthur’s forehead, and then stands up. “Can you get yourself back to wherever you and Morgana are holed up?” he asks. Arthur nods. “Goodnight,” Merlin tells him, and this time when he walks upstairs, he doesn’t come back.
“I wish I didn’t trust you as much as I do,” Arthur sighs.
He hears Morgana laugh, but she doesn’t reply. Her fingers are entwined with his and she’s leading him somewhere; Arthur has no idea where they’re going or what they’re going to find when they get there.
“This had better be good,” he adds, scrunching up his face behind the blindfold across his eyes. “There had better be strippers when we get there. Possibly ones that come out of cakes.”
“No strippers, no cakes,” Morgana responds briskly. “But it is important.”
“There is nothing more important than strippers and cake,” Arthur tells her, just to annoy her, and nearly trips over a pavement slab a moment later. “You did that deliberately.”
Morgana says nothing, and they walk in silence for a while longer. Arthur sincerely hopes this isn’t being photographed; the last thing he needs is an article on Foster Siblings In Kinky Sex Escapade or something.
“Do you promise you trust me?” Morgana asks, for about the fifth time today.
“I promise,” Arthur replies. “I trust you.”
He hears the sound of a door being opened, and Morgana announcing their presence. Her voice echoes, and then the heavy door slams behind them. She unties his blindfold, leaving Arthur blinking.
“I still think this is a crap idea,” a man’s voice says, somewhere to Arthur’s left. He squints, his eyes becoming accustomed to the light.
“Give him a chance,” a familiar voice replies. Emrys?
“These are some people I think you ought to meet,” Morgana says quietly, pulling Arthur with her.
They seem to be in an abandoned warehouse somewhere; the lighting is terrible and it’s inexplicably cold. As Arthur looks around, he can make out a few people, all in Superhero costumes. Emrys is leant against a wall, a slight smile curling his lips. A few feet away from him, sitting on what looks like an empty packing crate, is a young woman dressed all in yellow – Arthur recognises her both from the newspapers and from Morgana’s old photographs – and to her right stands a man in deep reddish brown, his arms folded over his chest. There’s also a small boy in bright blue sitting on another crate, wearing a mask that covers most of his face, leaving just his eyes, mouth and chin visible.
“You’re all Superheroes,” Arthur blurts, barely able to believe what he’s seeing.
“Wow, he’s observant as well as bigoted,” the burgundy-clad Superhero remarks dryly. “I can really see why you like him, Emrys.”
“Shut up, Ealdor,” Emrys snaps; for the first time since Arthur’s met him, he looks momentarily disconcerted.
The little boy in blue tips his head to the left, gaze fixed on Arthur. “He’s scared,” he remarks without inflection. “He’s scared of us.”
“So he’s a cowardly bigot.”
“Ealdor, I’m warning you…” Emrys looks genuinely angry, gold eyes flashing.
“Did that kid just… read my emotions?” Arthur asks slowly, trying to ignore the hostility pouring towards him because he’s not entirely sure he doesn’t deserve it.
“Read your mind,” the woman in yellow corrects quietly.
Immediately, Arthur’s brain flips through all its memories and throws up all the ones that are unsuitable and incriminating and embarrassing, flashing through his thoughts so quickly he barely registers them. He’s fairly sure this little boy doesn’t need to know what it feels like to drink a line of tequila shots or to be fucked against a water tank by a Superhero or any number of other random life experiences Arthur has collected.
The boy tips his head to the other side, and Arthur realises that he’s not blinking. At all. It’s distinctly creepy.
“Did you know you’re in love with Superman?” the boy asks, conversationally.
Arthur can’t think of anything at all to say, trying to work out how the boy trawled through all the shit in his mind and picked that out.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Ealdor mutters.
Arthur is rather inclined to agree with him.
A little while later, Arthur finds himself perched awkwardly on an empty crate, being stared at by masked faces wearing expressions ranging from polite curiosity to outright hostility. The only thing that’s keeping him from getting up and running is Morgana, who is sitting beside him with her fingers curled tight around his wrist. Emrys has nothing at all on his face, and Arthur can’t work out how to feel about that. He’s trying not to think too much about it, because the kid – who calls himself Druid, in a spectacular display of pretentious naming – really doesn’t need to know Arthur’s thoughts regarding the black-wearing Superhero.
The woman dressed in yellow calls herself Guinevere; Arthur suspects that might actually be her name. She and Morgana have clearly known each other a long time and Arthur finds himself wondering how they manage to keep in touch.
“They email,” Druid announces. “And when she’s not in costume, they meet for coffee.”
The Superheroes don’t seem disconcerted by this, but Arthur certainly is.
“I’m not a scary weird kid,” Druid scowls.
“Wow, this one’s a real charmer,” Ealdor murmurs. Arthur bristles, but he also gets the feeling that the comment isn’t directed at him. It’s subtle, but he catches the clench of Emrys’ jaw.
“Look,” Morgana says, “I know, I understand how difficult this is for everyone, but I foresaw bringing Arthur here so I have brought him here. Can we be civil for half an hour?”
“Fine.” Ealdor folds his arms across his chest.
“Don’t mind him,” Emrys says calmly, “We are just people under the glitzy masks, after all. Some of us are petty and narrow-minded.”
Ealdor’s fingers curl into fists with a squeak of leather. Morgana sighs softly. Arthur looks from Emrys to Ealdor and though he’s not entirely sure of the details he can read that there’s history between them plainly enough. A flush of embarrassment and anger rushes through him; he wonders exactly where he fits into the game between the two Superheroes.
He finally realises that they are far too human after all.
“I needed you to see all of Camelot’s Superheroes,” Morgana says calmly, slicing through the crackling tension. “I need you to know who they are, Arthur, because there are others in the city, like Valiant, who dress themselves up just to kill people. I need you to know that the Supervillains doing that aren’t the ones in this room.”
Arthur tries to push the hurt and annoyance to the back of his mind, to be taken out and pored over later, because that’s really small and irrelevant compared to the rest of the problems facing them at the moment.
“Good move,” Druid murmurs.
Guinevere offers Arthur a smile; she, at least, doesn’t seem predisposed to hate him.
“Don’t mind Ealdor,” Morgana says over lunch. They’re in a busy restaurant, waiters gliding about all over the place; Arthur has already seen the photographers outside the window snapping shots of him and Morgana. He has no idea what they’ll say about them: maybe Pendragon Children Actually Eat! Shock Horror!
“I can’t blame him for hating me,” Arthur shrugs.
“He doesn’t hate you,” Morgana replies. “His parents were Superheroes, before the ban; his mum’s still in prison and his father got killed in a riot.” Her lips thin. “At least, that’s the official line.”
Arthur still can’t think my father has Superheroes killed; his brain literally can’t process it.
“I don’t need the details,” Morgana begins, after the silence has gone on a little too long, “I don’t particularly want all the details. But there is something going on between you and Emrys, isn’t there?”
Arthur clenches his teeth, and lets his silence speak for him.
“Wow, that bad?” Morgana smiles slightly, but her eyes are concerned.
“We should get the bill,” Arthur replies; he doesn’t want to talk about it.
The roof of the mansion is one of Arthur’s favourite places, but he hasn’t been up here in a while. It’s a place he always comes alone, to sit and think and feel slightly less isolated.
Lying flat on his back on the cold surface, he stares up at the cloudy sky. It’s cold and he probably should have brought a jacket, but he’s here now and he’s some semblance of comfortable so he’s not going to move. Arthur shuts his eyes against the grey light and tries not to think that the reason he hasn’t been up here lately is because he’s had more in his life than his father’s cold arrogance and Morgana’s detached melancholy. But Merlin doesn’t want him and Emrys has used him and Arthur is bloody tired.
The sound of the door opening has him sitting up; Merlin looks surprised to see him.
“Sorry,” he says, “I didn’t know you were up here.”
He’s looking at Arthur in a slightly puzzled way; Arthur hasn’t been down to the kitchen for nearly a week. Merlin must think that he’s done something wrong, which he hasn’t; nothing that can be defined, anyway. But he’s an employee and Arthur does not have to deal with his emotions if he doesn’t want to.
“Do you want some privacy?” Merlin asks, a slight smile quirking his lips. “I mean, do you want me to go?”
“Yes,” Arthur replies; he knows he hasn’t sugarcoated it, but it still comes out blunter than he means it to.
Merlin’s smile twists awkwardly. “All right,” he says. Then he frowns, and walks over to Arthur.
“I know.” Merlin shrugs off his coat, the worn-looking black one he was wearing the other night, and carefully drops it over Arthur. It’s warm from Merlin’s skin, and the lining is soft against Arthur’s hands. “It’s cold up here,” Merlin replies, and walks away.
Arthur thinks about calling after him, but doesn’t.
Breakfast is a particularly tense affair; Morgana looks queasy, picking at a bowl of too-soggy muesli, while Arthur’s father is stabbing at his bacon and eggs like they’ve done something to personally offend him. Arthur has scrambled eggs on toast, made exactly the way he likes, which makes him feel obscurely guilty; he gets the feeling that if he were in Merlin’s shoes, he would deliberately burn the toast.
The newspapers are splashed with the news of a block of flats burning down; it’s sad news, but Arthur doesn’t get why it’s making his father so upset. Arthur doesn’t bother trying to work out why Morgana is unhappy; she’ll either tell him later, or she won’t.
Mid-morning, Arthur reaches a decision and goes downstairs to the kitchen. Merlin is marinating steaks for dinner, humming a tune Arthur doesn’t recognise under his breath. He smiles when he looks up and sees Arthur, though there’s a tentative edge to it.
“I’ve taken a lot of things out on you that I shouldn’t have,” Arthur admits, though it’s hard to say. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Merlin replies, and Arthur can see he means it.
“Are you still working things out?” he asks. “I mean, will you still say no if I ask you to have dinner with me?”
Merlin hesitates, and then says: “We need to talk. We could… we could do that over dinner.”
He wipes his hands on a teatowel, and steps closer to Arthur. He cups Arthur’s face in his hands, and presses the softest of kisses to Arthur’s lips.
“Ok then,” Arthur says, and is impressed at how his voice doesn’t waver.
Merlin’s broad smile is like sunshine. “Ok then.”
There’s something Morgana isn’t telling him, something his father is hiding, and Arthur is sick of being treated like a child, of being lied to. That night, he doesn’t go out drinking; instead, he goes down to the burned-out remains of the block of flats. There were no survivors, and standing behind the police tape Arthur can see why. It’s a horrific parody of a home, burned and twisted and blackened and half-collapsed.
It’s late; there’s no one around. Arthur doesn’t even know what he’s looking for; as far as he can tell, he’s just looking at a tragic accident.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” says a nonchalant voice beside him. Arthur turns so fast his neck clicks, to find another man has arrived. He’s dressed in what looks like dark green, a cloak flowing down his shoulders. He isn’t wearing a hood or a mask, but Arthur’s breath catches in his chest because the man’s face is melted, the flesh distorted as badly as the building before them.
“You did this,” he says, voice shaking.
The man shrugs, a smile unfurling across his lips. “A warning to Camelot,” he responds calmly. “I think maybe I’ll make you another one.”
“Oh for God’s sake.” Arthur turns to find Emrys has arrived, arms folded across his chest. He looks annoyed; Arthur is stunned to find the irritation is aimed at him. “It seems keeping you from dying horribly is a full-time job, Arthur.”
Nettled, Arthur opens his mouth to reply, but loses the words when the scarred man grabs his arm and pulls him backwards.
“Don’t, Muirden.” Emrys’ voice has gone hard and cold; it’s lost the soft exasperation and he’s collected himself. “Let him go.”
Muirden raises the hand not gripping Arthur; his palm fills with flame. “I don’t think I will,” he replies. “I think I’ll have his father find him in the morning.” He flashes a twisted smirk at Arthur. “It’ll hurt,” he says, “But don’t worry, Pendragon. You’ll still be recognisable.”
“You heard about Valiant, I suppose?” Emrys cuts in, as panic fills Arthur’s stomach. He forces himself not to let it show.
“He always was a little over-confident,” Muirden remarks. “It was only a matter of time before he broke his neck.”
“I broke his neck, actually,” Emrys replies. “Same as I’m going to break yours.”
Muirden’s fingers bite harder into Arthur’s arm. “Oh, did Valiant threaten Little Pendragon here?” he asks. His hand moves fast, fisting in Arthur’s hair, forcing his head back. “He is pretty,” Muirden observes, “I can see why you might want him as a pet, Emrys.”
Arthur can’t tell how Emrys moves so swiftly, but in a moment he’s beside Muirden, landing a blow to the man’s arm that has his hand opening. Arthur wastes no time in getting free, backing away.
“Get out of here!” Emrys shouts at him. Muirden punches him, forcing Emrys’ head back; his nose starts streaming blood, it’s probably broken. “Go, Arthur.”
“I can’t just-” Arthur begins.
“Go!” Emrys yells, blood flecking his lips, and Arthur feels a telekinetic push behind him. He swallows hard but knows he’s useless here; he starts running, and doesn’t stop until he gets back to the mansion.
The entrance hall is empty, but there’s something lying on the floor. Arthur walks over to pick it up; it’s Merlin’s jacket. He frowns; there’s no reason for it to be here, and he can’t see any sign of the other man.
Arthur can’t think about what has happened tonight or what might be happening to Emrys, so he curls his hands in the soft worn fabric of the coat, because it’s solid and real. He should take it back, he thinks.
He’s never been to Merlin’s room but he knows where it is, and he tries not to think about that embarrassingly drunken night as he walks up the narrow staircase; Merlin being an altogether too rational gentleman and all. He hesitates at the door, but then remembers that he sort of owns all of this and pushes his qualms away. At first, Arthur knocks lightly, but then when Merlin doesn’t reply he knocks a bit harder. It’s getting late, and he doesn’t think Merlin would have gone out without his coat; it’s chilly tonight.
“Merlin!” he calls.
When he gets no reply, he makes a decision and tries the door handle; the room is unlocked, and Arthur walks in.
The curtains are wide open, filling the room with moonlight. Merlin is standing in the middle of the room, his back to Arthur; one hand is raised to his face, pressed over his nose and mouth.
“Are you all right?” he asks, taking a step closer; he wants to be at Merlin’s side, but there’s something about the man’s tense posture that makes him wary.
“It’s all right,” Merlin replies. His voice is thick, a little too nasal, and a suspicion unfolds in Arthur’s mind. He closes the distance between them and pulls Merlin’s hand away from his face.
In the moonlight, the blood looks black. It’s running down Merlin’s chin; his nose looks broken. Arthur’s breath catches in his chest and he lets go of Merlin’s wrist, taking a step back. He wants this to be a coincidence, he doesn’t want this to be what he thinks it is, but Merlin’s nose has been broken, just like…
“Emrys,” he breathes.
Merlin slowly raises his head. And his eyes are shining gold. His fucking eyes are fucking gold.
“No,” Arthur says desperately, because Merlin is sweet and Merlin can’t get his coffee right and Merlin tidies up Arthur’s careless messes with a resigned expression on his face. Merlin is not the sort of person who would break someone’s neck, or fuck Arthur in public, or…
“I was going to tell you,” Merlin says. Even his voice is wrong; it’s lost the slightly-Irish lilt. He even sounds like Emrys now, and Arthur feels betrayal rip through him.
“You have five minutes,” he says calmly, his voice so horribly steady. “You have five minutes to get your belongings together, and then you are going to leave this house. If you stay longer than that, I will tell my father who you are and, more importantly, what you are.”
“Arthur,” Merlin begins beseechingly.
“You will leave,” Arthur says, his voice still cold, “And you will not come back.”
He steps outside, slamming the door behind him. He can barely breathe and his eyes are prickling, threatening tears. Arthur forces them down, gritting his teeth. He watches time tick by on his watch and then opens the door, unable to decide whether he wants to demand an explanation when he forces Merlin – forces Emrys – to leave.
The windows are wide open, and the room is empty. Arthur looks down, and finds he’s still clutching Merlin’s jacket. He swallows hard, and pulls at the fabric until it rips in two.
Morgana corners him after breakfast, and they go out to the back steps where they won’t be overheard.
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” she demands, face pale, eyes narrowed.
“Merlin was a liar,” Arthur spits. “He was a fucking Superhero.”
“I know,” Morgana snarls back. “I know, because he was here to help me.”
Arthur tries to find something to say in reply, but his mouth won’t move. He can barely breathe.
“Uther won’t let me leave,” Morgana replies, obviously struggling to keep her voice steady. “He has me watched, he has my phonecalls bugged, he’s got an alert on my passport so I can’t get out of the country. I’m a prisoner here, Arthur; in this house, in this city.” She swallows, then continues: “People are angry about your father and his anti-Superhero stance, Arthur. More and more Supervillains have been coming to the city of late, and your father has blurred the lines too much; sooner or later he was going to take it out on me.” She meets Arthur’s eyes, pinning him with a glare. “Merlin came to work here to keep an eye on things, so he could get me out if Uther looked like he was losing patience with me.”
Arthur remembers arguments behind cold doors, the constant frosty silences at mealtimes. He doesn’t want to be hearing this, but it sounds horribly true.
“Tell me how I’m going to get to safety now, Arthur,” Morgana demands. When he remains silent too long, she adds: “No, really, tell me how you’re going to protect me from your father.” A cruel smirk quirks her lips. “Because you’re going to have to, now you’ve sent my lifeline away because you made the stupid mistake of falling for him.”
“I didn’t fall for him,” Arthur snaps.
Morgana sneers at him, and then turns and walks away. She doesn’t have anything left to say to him, and though Arthur doesn’t regret his decision, he doesn’t have anything to say to her either.
Arthur hides in his room for two days and no one comes to talk to him. He has too much time to think; to turn things over in his mind and to curse himself for being stupid. The clues were there, after all. He didn’t notice them, he didn’t put them together, but if he’d wanted to work it out he probably could have.
Merlin was a Superhero, and he lived two lives for months, and Arthur doesn’t know what to think any more. He recalls the soft kiss Merlin dropped onto his lips on the morning before Arthur found out; he recalls Emrys’ certain strength.
Eventually, Arthur takes the hidden comic book out from under the floorboards and reads the thin crumpled pages that he already knows off by heart. Millions and millions and millions of these were burned, loose sheets drifting in the smoke towards the sky. He recalls the acrid scent of burning magazines, the coloured artwork curling up blackly as the flames ate it.
The comic books couldn’t have hurt anyone. And the Superheroes of the city; they’re unsettling, but they haven’t hurt anyone either. Maybe they never have; Nimueh saved Arthur’s life, after all. She saved his life and he doubts she’s in solitary confinement as he’s always been told. Nimueh must be dead. Just like Lance Du Lacque is dead, though he was young and a Type One and he was scared.
Arthur is angry and hurt but he doesn’t want Merlin – doesn’t want Emrys – dead. He thinks about Guinevere and Morgana and they don’t deserve to be killed; neither does freaky little Druid boy, or Ealdor, who might be an obnoxious prick but doesn’t deserve to die for it.
Carefully, reverently, Arthur wraps Superman back up in his tinfoil, and puts him back beneath the floorboards. It’s occurring to him now that it everything he’s always believed is a lie; that his father really has gone mad; that the world is a different place.
“It’s too late,” he murmurs, hating the way the words sound. “It’s too fucking late to do anything about it.”
It’s pissing it down with rain, which matches Arthur’s distinctly dark mood exactly. He sits on the sodden stone of the back steps, staring blankly at nothing. There was a time, once, when his father would have come out and hauled him back in; if not out of genuine concern for Arthur’s well-being, then out of concern for appearances. Now, his father is holed up in his study with the photographs on the walls, and Arthur has been left outside to his own devices.
“Come on, Little Emo Arthur.” He hasn’t heard Morgana walk up, but she’s here now, standing above him beneath the shelter of a large black umbrella. “Getting pneumonia won’t prove anything; it’ll just make you look like a twat.”
Arthur obediently trails after her; Morgana has been hiding beneath the overhang of the mansion’s back wall, stood beneath her balcony. She has two mugs of coffee, and Arthur accepts it gratefully.
“I’m sorry,” he says, when his teeth have stopped chattering.
“I know,” Morgana replies, smiling. “And I do forgive you for it, even if you are an idiot of the highest order.”
They drink their coffee in silence; Morgana smokes three cigarettes in quick succession and Arthur feels the cold start to set in.
Finally, he says: “Is his name even Merlin?”
“If we were picking him a name, don’t you think we’d have chosen something less conspicuous?” Morgana responds, eyes twinkling. She presses a kiss to Arthur’s wet cheek, and goes back inside.
Uther, Arthur and Morgana stand on the roof and watch Camelot burning. Apparently Emrys still hasn’t stopped Muirden; an entire street seems to be on fire.
“This is what Superheroes do,” Uther spits. “They destroy, and I will stop them.”
“It isn’t the Superheroes,” Morgana protests. “It’s the Supervillains, Uther. There’s a difference.”
Taking his eyes off the flames, Uther backhands her across the face. Morgana shrieks, stumbling backwards, and Arthur shouts: “Father!”
Morgana presses her hand to her face and when she draws it back Arthur can see that her lips are bleeding. Her eyes are wide and shocked, fear and defiance mingling on her face.
“Shut up,” Uther says tightly.
Morgana opens her mouth but Arthur moves quickly, stepping between his father and his foster sister.
“Leave her alone,” he hisses.
For a moment, he thinks Uther is going to hit him too; but he simply turns back to watching the fire. Arthur reaches for Morgana’s hand, threading their fingers together; he can feel her trembling.
The next morning, Morgana has gone. The windows to her room are wide open, and a few of her most precious possessions have vanished. Arthur is not surprised, though Uther strides about screaming kidnap and Superhero conspiracy. The police tramp through the halls of the mansion, the press camp out in their front garden, and everywhere is full of too much noise and too much activity.
Arthur goes to hide in the kitchen, which feels like a different place without Merlin, and tries to work out if he’s more relieved or devastated that Morgana has finally got free. One of the cooks gives him a sympathetic smile, and makes Arthur a decent cup of coffee.
When he’s alone, Arthur throws the cup of perfectly decent coffee at the wall and does his best not to burst into tears because it won’t help. Nothing can help him now.
Later on, when the house has quietened down slightly and Uther has gone to the town hall for a press conference, Arthur manages to hack into Morgana’s email, and finds Guinevere’s email address.
I don’t need to know where she is but I do need to know that she’s safe, he sends. And then there’s nothing to do but hope like hell.
A few days later, Arthur wakes up to find a post-it note stuck on his bedside table. It has only two words on it: tin foil. He frowns, staring at them for a while until they finally make sense.
He scrambles out of bed, going to lock his bedroom door and make sure the curtains are completely closed. Only then does he pull up the floorboards and scramble until he finds his foil-wrapped comic book; nothing seems to have been moved but when he peels back the silver covering he finds a piece of paper.
Roof. 4.15 p.m.
A smile curls across Arthur’s mouth, and he quickly shreds the papers, putting everything neatly back beneath his floor before going for a shower.
Breakfast is a colder affair than usual; Uther doesn’t even look at him, buried in the newspaper. Muirden is still burning down random buildings, and since Arthur isn’t going out and falling out of clubs any more, the Camelot Herald is robbed even of its meagre repetitive gossip.
“I see you’ve gained some maturity,” his father observes after a while, voice entirely without inflection.
“Yes,” Arthur responds, equally flatly. He recalls Morgana, a lifetime ago, a cigarette in her trembling hands. I hate him.
He can see her point.
Emrys is lying on his back on the roof when Arthur gets there. It’s an unusually sunny afternoon; still cold, but bright. Arthur walks over and, after a moment of hesitation, sits down and then lies down beside the Superhero.
“Hello,” he says uncomfortably.
“Hello,” Emrys responds. “I thought I’d better give you news of Morgana in person; it seemed like the safest option.”
“There are five different news vans on my front lawn,” Arthur points out, “I’d hardly call it safe.”
“Oh, they’re harmless,” Emrys says cheerfully. “You really do live your life out in the public eye, though, don’t you?” Then he sucks in a breath. “Sorry, is it too soon?”
“No,” Arthur replies, “No, it’s ok.”
He tips his head to one side to find Emrys is looking at him and smiling. It’s Merlin’s smile, even with the mask and hood; seeing the Superhero for the first time in decent lighting, Arthur is struck by how much of Merlin he can see through the costume, now he knows what to look for.
“Morgana is safe,” Emrys tells him. “We got her out to America, where they’re not overly fond of Superheroes, but they haven’t outlawed them. There’s a home for Type Twos outside New York; she’ll be able to live there as long as she wants.”
“You should’ve gone with her,” Arthur remarks.
“Probably,” Emrys agrees. “But there’s too much to stay for.”
Arthur’s stomach clenches, in spite of everything. He catches Emrys’ eyes; in sunlight they’re not glowing, but they’re still golden. Emrys sighs, and drops his gaze.
“Look,” he begins, rolling his head back so he isn’t looking at Arthur, “I need to get something off my chest, whether you want to listen or not.”
“I’ll listen,” Arthur says.
“Ealdor is my best friend,” Emrys tells him. “We’ve known each other since we were children.” He sighs. “He’s my ex too, and we’ve been having the most ugly, lingering break-up possible for the last three years.”
“Is he the ex who said you never grew out of your awkward teenage phase?” Arthur asks.
“Well-remembered,” Emrys says, and his cheeks are a little pink. “Yeah, Will said that.”
Arthur catches the slip-up. “Will?”
Emrys laughs uncomfortably. “It’s all fairly fucked-up,” he says. “He became a Superhero for me, you see. So there’s Ealdor, who is Emrys’ ex; and then there’s Will, who’s Merlin’s ex.”
“So you’ve broken up twice,” Arthur remarks. “Ouch.”
Emrys is quiet for a while, and then he manages: “I just needed you to know that you weren’t… you weren’t part of a game. I wasn’t trying to hurt Ealdor or Will, I wasn’t trying to use you to try and win him back. Everything I did, it was because of you, not anyone else.” He gives Arthur a sheepish smile, and then sits up. “I should be going. I just needed you to know.”
Arthur sits up too and catches his arm, fingers curling over the warm leather. “Wait,” he says quietly.
There’s a moment of quiet, then Arthur slides his hand up Emrys’ arm, curls it over the back of Emrys’ neck, and carefully guides their lips together. The kiss starts out slowly, as though both of them are nervous; it’s not the fierce, heated kisses of before. Not now. Emrys’ tongue slides across the seam of Arthur’s lips, seeking entrance, and Arthur opens his mouth in response. The hood is silky-soft beneath his hand, and he imagines Merlin’s hair trapped beneath it, dark and wild.
Gently, Emrys pushes Arthur until he’s lying on the roof again, Emrys lying over him. Arthur’s other arm comes up to wrap around his neck, and he feels Emrys smile against his lips before continuing his warm, thorough exploration of Arthur’s mouth.
When they finally part, Arthur can barely breathe, and Emrys is smiling down at him. His eyes… his eyes are blue streaked with gold, and Arthur finally realises that they’re not two separate people; the man lying over him is the best parts and worst parts of Merlin and Emrys.
“I really have to go,” Merlin murmurs, his gloved thumb pressing to the corner of Arthur’s swollen mouth before sliding away, touch gentle and intimate.
Arthur swallows. “I’m never going to see you again, am I?”
“It’s too dangerous,” Emrys tells him.
Arthur knows this, and he doesn’t want to think about it. He kisses Emrys again, wanting to prolong this moment for as long as he can.
“So what have you learned from this experience?” Emrys asks him quietly, finally, a little smirk quirking his mouth.
Arthur leans back, letting his head thunk against the concrete. “I really am in love with Superman,” he says.
Merlin laughs. “I always preferred Batman, myself.”
“Batman?” Arthur frowns.
“He’d be a Type One,” Merlin replies. “Dressed up as a bat and went out and fucked people up.”
“Sounds like a keeper,” Arthur smirks.
Emrys smoothes a gloved hand through Arthur’s hair, and then gets to his feet.
“Take care of yourself, Arthur,” he says, and then he takes a running jump off the roof. Arthur doesn’t know how he gets away unseen, but the news crews don’t go mad, so clearly it’s part of his Type Two abilities.
“I love you,” he says quietly. He sits there in silence for a while longer, then mutters: “Fuck this.”
Epilogue: Three Months Later
The Superhero dressed all in red leaves a note for Uther Pendragon – don’t look for me, I think we’ve reached the end of the line – and walks out of the mayor’s mansion into the night. His blonde hair is held in place with a red band around his head, while a small rounded mask is glued across his eyes. The crimson bodysuit is more flexible than he expected, and since he’s had no friends and no family he’s spent maybe too many hours in the nearest gym, and it clings to his newly defined muscles.
He feels a bit like a twat, but there’s a grin unfurling over his mouth anyway. He doesn’t know where he’s going, but he thinks it’ll probably be all right anyway.
“Well, this is unexpected,” Emrys says, stepping out of the shadows.
The red-clad Superhero shrugs. “It seemed logical to me.”
A woman dressed all in yellow emerges next to Emrys. “You realise that being a Type One means you’re just admitting to being certifiably insane?” she smiles.
“I’d rather be certifiably insane than helpless,” he replies.
A grin spreads across Emrys’ lips; it’s so wide and undignified that it strips off the Superhero cover to the shy, sweet young man underneath.
“Did you do this for me?” he asks.
The Superhero in red tips his head to one side, considering. “I did it for Morgana,” he replies. “And Nimueh. And Lance. And everyone else who tried to save the world and had it thrown back at them.”
A Superhero in red-brown steps out behind him. “Oh, thank God, you’re here,” he says, “Emrys has been unbearable without you.”
“Ealdor,” Emrys groans.
“You have,” Ealdor shrugs. “Anyway, there’ll be time for this touching reunion later; we’ve got a city to protect.” He holds his arm out to Guinevere. “Shall we?”
Guinevere smiles. “We shall.”
When they’re gone, Emrys turns to the newcomer. “Do you have a codename?” he asks.
“Excalibur,” he replies.
“Really?” There’s a trace of a laugh in Emrys’ voice.
“Yes,” Excalibur snaps. “And it’s no more ridiculous and pretentious than your name.”
“No,” Emrys concedes, “I suppose not.” He considers Excalibur for a moment longer in the moonlight. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Excalibur confirms.
“Thank God,” Emrys sighs, catching Excalibur’s cheek with a gloved hand and pressing a soft kiss to his mouth. “I know I’m not Superman, but-”
“I’m not Batman,” Excalibur interrupts.
“You’ll do,” Emrys tells him, smiling, and holds out a hand. “Ready?”
Excalibur doesn’t hesitate as he takes it. “Ready.”
A few moments later and the street is empty, full of nothing but cool moonlight. And twenty minutes later, Muirden finds himself cornered.